From nurse to patient: A journey with breast cancer

Registered nurse Denise Hickey has brought hope and strength to her patients for more than 30 years at Tampa General Hospital, and especially now during the pandemic.

"I'm sure it's horrible for those who are in the hospital that can't have visitors and that touch, human touch," said Hickey. "If I have the opportunity when I'm in the hospital to help someone just because I'm here that's a plus."

She knows how much that help can mean. The nurse became a patient last year after finding out she had breast cancer.

"I had two different types of cancer in the same breast one was ductal, one was actually a tumor," said Hickey. "I felt like I got punched in the stomach. At first, I said, 'Why me?'"

But then she thought about her mother, who went through a similar diagnosis at around the same age.

"I kind of looked back and remembered when my mom had cancer and I thought, 'Well look at her now, she's 80 years old and never had any recurrences. She's lived life to the fullest.' so I decided that that's what I was going to do," said Hickey.

The nurse admits she wasn't always the easiest patient.

"I probably was not the nicest person to my radiation technology friends but they are a Godsend and I could not have done it without them," said Hickey.

She had to learn that it was OK not to not be OK.

"People always told me to let my emotions go, like really experience my emotions because no matter what it is, whether you lose someone or you have a terrible diagnosis, there are stages of grief and you have to go through all of those stages of grief in order to move on," said Hickey.

After weeks of radiation, Hickey got the biggest treat on Halloween. She rang the bell, signifying the closure of this challenging battle.

"I was very very very fortunate that if you had to have this diagnosis I had the best kind there was and it was totally treatable, totally manageable," said Hickey.

Even before her diagnosis, Hickey supported Making Strides and it takes on a special meaning this year. Now that she's been through her own cancer journey, she plans to join the virtual events and she's encouraging others to join with her.

"The spirit is still the spirit. The intent is still there and there's no reason why you still can't make it fun with your friends," said Hickey. 

The American Cancer Society invites everyone to Walk Your Way, Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18. You can join a team, walk with friends and family, or walk on your own, wherever you are.

To find out how to participate in the virtual Making Strides events, visit